Now we know why Australia is infatuated with Shaun Marsh

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Marsh hit a fifty and a ton in the first two Ashes Tests.

Gifted athletes are special not only because they produce results others can only dream of, but also because some of them tend to be given special consideration when it comes to their performance appraisal.

Take the case of Shaun Marsh. The Australian left-handed batsman made his eighth comeback to the Australian team since his debut in 2011 during the ongoing Ashes. He was selected ahead of Glenn Maxwell – a hard-hitting lower order batsman, handy spinner and exceptional fielder.

Marsh, however, was selected not because of a deluge of runs on the domestic circuit but on word of mouth. His returns in first-class cricket before his selection for the Ashes was decent – 236 runs from six innings at an average of 39.33 for Western Australia. But WA coach Justin Langer insisted Marsh is in the form of his life and ready for another shot at the highest level.

Marsh, 34, knew the spotlight was on him as he had kept a talented player like Maxwell out of the Ashes squad. Maxwell has never played a Test in Australia, all seven of his games coming in Asian conditions. During the 2-1 series defeat in India earlier in the year, Maxwell scored a fine century in the drawn Ranchi Test. In his last Test, Maxwell scored 63 runs against Bangladesh in a match the Aussies won by seven wickets.

But it was Marsh who was given the nod and full marks to him for grabbing the chance with both hands. His fifty in the first Ashes Test and masterful century in the second was as much a relief for the player as it was for those who vouched for him.

Marsh is well and truly on top of his game right now and looks to have sealed his spot at No6. In both Tests, he scored runs with the hosts on the back foot and England’s bowlers a strike or two away from taking control of the match. And say what you may, to thump a world-class quick like Stuart Broad for two fours and a six down the ground in four balls takes a special talent.

The Australian selectors went more on promise picking him ahead of Maxwell and it is a shot in the arm for those who look beyond just the numbers.

It’s a shame that Maxwell isn’t given similar leeway. After the all-rounder scored 278 for Victoria last week in the Sheffield Shield, his coach Andrew McDonald said the challenge for Maxwell now was to back it up with another big knock.

Maxwell has never played a Test on home soil, scored a century in India and fell short of a first-class triple century last week. Yet it is he who has to put more pressure on the selectors through the weight of his runs and not Marsh, who has never scored a first-class double century.

If there is something called the X factor, Marsh has it in abundance and he showed in Adelaide why players, former and current, across Australia are desperate to see him on the field.

DISASTER IN DELHI

The capital of India is in the midst of a prolonged health crisis and it came to the fore during the second day’s play in the Delhi Test.

At least four Sri Lankan players suffered bouts of vomiting as they fielded at the Feroz Shah Kotla while some were given oxygen after they complained of breathlessness in the highly polluted Delhi air.

The national capital is one of the most polluted cities in the world with numbers reaching toxic levels last month – 40 times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation.

Sporting events in Delhi during the winter months have been under the scanner for some time. During the FIFA U17 World Cup in India in October, pollution levels in Delhi were a major issue, with organisers even considering pulling the tournament out of the city at one stage.

Sponsors of the successful Delhi Half Marathon have threatened to pull the plug on the event next year if the air quality issue isn’t addressed soon.

It has taken the Sri Lankan team’s drastic situation to put the critical issue where it simply can’t be ignored – in the spotlight during a Test where India’s darling Virat Kohli scored a double century.

The hosts might not be on the same page as the Sri Lankans as they were more than keen on playing, but the fact remains it is a matter of shame for a sporting hub to be seen as an unworthy host.

The BCCI believes the issue has been blown out of proportion. “If 20,000 people in the stands did not have problem and the Ind-ian team did not face any issue, I wonder why Sri Lanka made a big fuss?,” acting BCCI president CK Khanna said. With such an attitude, nothing is going to change.

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All too easy for India against Sri Lanka but that’s not ideal preparation for South Africa tour

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All too easy: Plain sailing for India.

The Test series against Sri Lanka was less about results and more about preparing the India team for the tour of South Africa that begins early next year. Test cricket is hardly the place to ‘prepare’ for future assignments but the packed calendar and the absence of substantial warm-up matches in South Africa meant the team had to improvise at home and ‘create’ conditions that would test the players.

It doesn’t reflect too well on the Sri Lanka team that their opposition were willing to play around with team combination and nature of the wickets. Even the fact the Sri Lankans had just beaten Pakistan 2-0 in the UAE had failed to stop Virat Kohli and Co from experimenting. India’s 9-0 win across formats in Sri Lanka earlier in the year was probably the deciding factor in their thought process.

However, as the third Test started in Delhi it became clear the Indians were not going to get the preparation they had hoped for.

The first Test in Kolkata was, as coach Ravi Shastri would say, just what the doctor ordered. The pitch was injected with as much grass and life as it could possibly hold and the hosts found the going tough in the first innings. They were shot out for 172 and conceded a massive 122-run lead.

But once the initial shock dissipated, and captain Kohli hit back with a second innings century, the Indians regained their touch and never let go the initiative. India were about an hour away from a stunning win in the first Test where rain took away nearly two days’ worth of play.

The second Test in Nagpur didn’t pose such issues and despite attempts to spice up the pitch, it turned out to be a walk in the park for the Indian batsmen. They piled on 610 with four batsmen smashing tons, an innings win becoming a formality.

Nagpur wasn’t quite Newlands, Cape Town – the venue of the New Year’s Test. And if the team management did send instructions to prepare a green track, the memo surely didn’t reach the Delhi curator.

It was a typically flat Kotla deck that allowed the Indians to score at more than four runs an over throughout the day with only a couple of stumping dismissals close to the end providing the Sri Lankans something to cheer about.

The management wanted the batsmen to be tested against the moving ball but that scenario played out only in the first innings of the first Test. Since then, the Indians have batted whichever way they have wanted, pumping up their batting averages. The fifty scored by Cheteshwar Pujara in the first innings in Kolkata is the only real ‘success’ for the Indians this series when considering the targets they had set for themselves.

Admittedly, Sri Lanka aren’t the most challenging bowling unit in five-day cricket and you can’t blame the batsmen if there are cheap runs – despite it being Test cricket – to be had.

However, that’s exactly the situation the Indians wanted to avoid and if the target at the beginning of the series was to have a line-up ready for the South African challenge, the Indians have missed the mark, so to speak, despite being outstanding in every department.

The Indians wanted to put themselves in uncomfortable positions during the series but the pitches in Nagpur and especially Delhi have prevented them from simulating anything remotely as nasty as what awaits in the Rainbow nation. It looks they will have to cross that bridge when they reach there.

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South African batsman hits fastest 300 in first-class cricket

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Hit 35 fours and 13 sixes in his 300 not out: Marco Marais

Marco Marais slammed the fastest triple century in first-class cricket to become the second South African in just over a week to claim a world record.

Marais, 24, went on a hitting spree to smash 300 not out off 191 balls for Border against Eastern Province in East London in South Africa’s three-day provincial competition, the country’s second tier of first-class cricket.

The previous fastest recorded triple century in terms of balls faced was off 221 deliveries by Charlie Macartney for the touring Australians against Nottinghamshire in 1921.

Denis Compton made 300 for MCC against North-Eastern Transvaal in 181 minutes in 1948/49 but the number of balls faced was not recorded. The England batsman went in at 61 for two and the total innings lasted for 71 eight-ball overs.

The previously unheralded Marais hit 35 fours and 13 sixes after arriving to bat with his side in trouble at 82 for four.

He and Bradley Williams (113 not out) added an unbeaten 428 runs before Border declared. Rain interfered with the match, which ended in a draw.

Like Shane Dadswell, who set a ‘minor’ cricket world record by smashing 490 not out in a limited overs club match in Potchefstroom recently, Marais is hoping his feat will provide a step up to franchise cricket, the top tier of South African domestic cricket.

“I didn’t go overseas to play club cricket this year,” he said. “I sacrificed and I worked the whole off-season on specific things and areas I thought I could improve on.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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